POTENTIAL PROBLEMS WITH THE AIRWAVE
285. Despite the benefits that Airwave has brought,
as set out in chapter four, the Police Federation expressed concern
about the ability of the network to cope with large-scale events
such as the forthcoming Olympics:
Serious consideration also needs to be given
to the Airwave radio communications problems that already exist
and will only be exacerbated by an event of this size and nature.
As experienced during last year's  Notting Hill Carnival,
the Airwave network cannot cope with a high concentration of officers
using the system in one place. There also remains the huge problem
of communications for the emergency services working on the Underground
system. This was brought to light during the tragedy at King's
Cross in 1987 and 20 years later has yet to be satisfactorily
solved. Whilst Airwave can now be used on some Underground lines,
the roll-out remains piecemeal and has taken too long.
286. 92% of delegates at the Police Federation annual
conference in May 2008 voted that the system is "inadequate",
the then-Vice Chair, Alan Gordon, saying it "would struggle
to cope with a well-attended egg and spoon race, let alone with
the 2012 Olympics".
287. The Academy of Engineering explained the cause
of the problem:
The amount of voice traffic is now reaching the
limits of the current system's spectrum resources in some areas
(particularly in London). This suggests that the Airwave system
will be inadequate for the future needs of the police forces,
particularly in densely populated areas where information needs
are likely to exceed the TETRA network's capacity.
Airwave has limited (narrow) bandwidth and data
capability. Existing equipment is capable of carrying more traffic
but additional spectrum is required. Rather than use another band
it would be easier and less expensive to expand the band assigned
to Airwave to the full range. In the UK, military users occupy
the part of the band not assigned to Airwave, so this expansion
would need to be managed carefully.
288. Mr Bobbett, of Airwave Solutions Ltd, told us
that although the Airwave system has over 99% geographical coverage,
a physical restriction would be expected. The system is now, owing
in large part to implementation across the Metropolitan Police,
carrying three or four times the amount of communications previously
289. Mr Bobbett noted that Airwave Solutions was
working with the Olympic Delivery Authority and the London Organising
Committee of the Olympic Games, as well as the Metropolitan Police
and the Home Office lead for the Olympics, to overcome the problem:
"I think every technology has some limits, but we are talking
about many thousands of officers. If I take G8 as a real-life
example, I think we had 3,000 officers in and around the Gleneagles
event itself, and the system worked very well".
290. We also put our concerns to the Minister of
State, who replied:
The reality is much closer to what Airwave was
suggesting than the Police Federation, but I know, in the City,
in the next breath, that there have been teething problems and
There are difficulties, not least around surges
of activity, which we do need to try and understand more readily
I know that peoplecertainly the Metare fully
on the case in terms of ensuring the durability of the Airwave
network for the Olympics.
291. On a related point, we raised the possibility
of another terrorist attack on the transport network and how Airwave
would cope with this. Mr Bobbett responded:
The Airwave system is completely joined up between
the surface and the tunnel, and as we sit here today and I refer
to the underground stations, obviously the stations that are above
ground on the London Underground system have coverage already,
but those that are under ground, about 75% actually now have the
system deployed into the stations and tunnels.
292. Chief Constable Johnston agreed with this analysis,
but noted his anxiety that the station programme is dictated according
to engineering rather than operational priorities, which means
that "some of the more important places are not getting covered
as quickly as we might like".
293. Insufficient progress has been made in bringing
forward a plan to secure the London Olympic Games, which are now
only four years away. We are concerned at the potential implications
both for security during the event and for planning by individual
forces who will be involved in delivery. The Home Office should
take urgent steps to ensure that planning security for the Games
is properly co-ordinated across police forces and other authorities.
294. The Airwave radio network can struggle to
cope where a very large number of users are concentrated in the
same area. We are concerned about the potential for the network
to fail during the Olympic 2012 games, given the numbers of officers
who will be deployed. The Home Office should address this as a
matter of urgency, including consideration of expanding the radio
band assigned to Airwave. We expect the Home Office to keep us
informed as to practical steps they are taking in partnership
with Airwave Solutions.
295. We welcome assurances that radio communication
between tunnel and surface is now possible through most of the
London Underground network. This is of particular importance should
the system once again be subject to terrorist attack. The priority
for remaining installation work should be those stations with
greatest operational need.